January 30, 2003
Tra Vigne Short Ribs and Polenta

I couldn't resist the huge short ribs in the store after spotting this recipe online. It seems that this could be the exact recipe that I ate at Tra Vigne (and which I tried to recreate earlier.) The short ribs were cut very thickly and separated into single rib chunks, 3 inches square and 2 inches tall.

I had high hopes for us to be able to recreate the wonderful meal I had at Tra Vigne but our interpretation of the recipe turned out differently. Our dinner was very rich and very good, but it wasn't what I remembered having at the restaurant. It shouldn't be too surprising that we can't exactly recreate a dish from a stylish restaurant, but it is a bit disheartening. We did make a few deviations from the recipe that may have affected the taste. We had to abbreviate the brining period since we were short on time. In the notes of the recipe, Chiarello mentions that brining "firms the meat enough to keep it on the bone." Our short ribs were very tender and didn't fall apart, but they weren't able to hold onto their bones after 3 hours in the oven.

Another discrepancy between our dinner and Tra Vigne's version was the polenta. The online recipe for the short ribs does not include the garlic and herb polenta that I was served in the restaurant so I had to make it up from memory. Instead of using the fine ground cornmeal that we normally use (the kind that comes in a cardboard cylinder like Quaker oats), I used some coarsely ground, rustic looking stuff I found at Whole Foods. I've heard that when people complain "I've been slaving in the kitchen for hours" they're talking about making polenta, but until now I didn't believe it. In most places I've looked, the polenta recipes call for constant whisking for 30 minutes until tender. I've found that it takes no more than 5 minutes to get the finely ground, uniform cornmeal tender. After 5 minutes of stirring, the coarse, rustic cornmeal from Whole Foods was crunchy and gritty. After almost 40 minutes of slaving over the hot stove, the polenta was creamy and tender. Unfortunately, I didn't think about the flavoring until the end so I just tossed in some dried thyme. Unsurprisingly, the polenta I made did not live up to the memory of the Tra Vigne polenta. The short ribs were a closer match though, and I think that with better planning and preparation we could pull off an even better facsimile.